I’ve been a little sad all day, this first Mother’s Day of the pandemic. We had a nice multi-generational family Zoom chat, with mother stories and laughter, and a baby at hand (and sometimes cuddled in a box like a cat!). Some of us were inside, and some of us were out—too chilly and gloomy here in Illinois, but sunny and warm enough for those in Nebraska and Oregon, California and South Carolina… Why was I so sad? Perhaps the general sorrow and unease has caught up with me.
As perhaps it did with Olive Kitteridge, who has mellowed a bit in Olive, Again, the sort-of-a-sequel by Elizabeth Strout. If you didn’t like Olive in Olive Kitteridge, you might like her better now: her life is catching up with her, she’s worried she wasn’t a good mother, and she’s learned even more about love. If, like me, you did love the first book, you’ll probably enjoy this return to small-town Maine and linked short stories that work together to create a novel.
I read it at exactly the right time, though as an ebook and through pandemic eyes. It’s a cold May here, and character Jack Kennison is out on a cold June day, noticing the people. “There were people on the sidewalks, many were young people with kids or strollers, and they all seemed to be talking to one another. This fact impressed him. How easily they took this for granted, to be with one another, to be talking!” Indeed, how easily we took that for granted.
The character of Suzanne, whom her lawyer friend considers a true innocent, says to him, “I think our job—maybe even our duty—is to…bear the burden of the mystery with as much grace as we can.” I think she’s right.
Blunt Olive Kitteridge, who has come to visit Cindy Coombs after seeing her in the grocery store and realizing she’s very sick, says, to help Cindy understand why none of her friends are visiting, “Everyone’s scared to die.” Everyone is, probably, or almost everyone. That fear is producing some very bad behavior in our country these days, and also some very good behavior. That fear, that suffering, may be developing people’s empathy. There’s some beautiful, generous stuff going on these days, too.
On Zoom today, I told about how wonderful it was to talk to my mom on the phone when I was young and alone and homesick on my own in the big city. Sometimes I’d call up and say, “I’m sad, sad, sad,” and she would help me remember the beauty of world. Today on Zoom, my daughter began to tell how I helped her learn to breathe…to handle pain…and then she cried, and I cried, and the Zoom went on, and we had our quiet tears and quiet recovery, and here we are again.
Ah, and just now, a birth! Mordecai Ivan Rio. Newly in the world!